5 Tips for Getting Protein as a Vegetarian
September 21, 2022
When we think of protein, meat typically comes to mind. When we read about healthy protein options, skinless chicken breast, lean beef, or ground turkey are commonly recommended. While it’s true that these are great sources of protein, what if you are a vegetarian?
Let’s take a look at what protein actually is and what it does for the body. Then we’ll discuss several excellent protein sources for vegetarians.
The Importance of Consuming Protein as a Vegetarian
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body. They perform a wide range of functions including:
- Building and repairing muscles and bones
- Producing hormones that control growth and appetite
- Making enzymes that aid in digestion
- Managing metabolism
- Managing blood pressure
- Renewing cells throughout the body
- Providing a source of energy
When it comes to protein consumption, there are 2 primary sources — animals and plants. Animal-derived proteins such as meat, eggs, and milk are complete proteins. This means they provide all of the 9 essential amino acids our bodies need to function properly.
Plant proteins such as quinoa and soybeans contain complete proteins as well. However, many plant-derived proteins are missing some of the essential amino acids. Vegetarians may be at risk of having a protein deficiency, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods to get all 9 of them.
High Protein Sources for Your Vegetarian Recipe
People choose to eat vegetarian diets for a variety of reasons. The good news is that you can get adequate amounts of quality protein without eating meat. Below is a list of 5 (mostly) vegetarian foods that are heart-healthy and high in protein.
If you are a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats fish), consider making white fish a staple in your diet. White fleshed fish such as cod, flounder, sole, halibut, snapper, catfish, haddock, and grouper are all low-fat protein sources that offer many benefits. Experts recommend having white fish at least a few times a week as part of a healthy pescatarian diet.
Legumes are a family of foods that encompasses beans, peas, and lentils. They have a great nutritional profile for vegetarian diets. They contain good amounts of protein along with B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc. Nutritionists agree that eating at least a serving of legumes a day can help you meet protein recommendations. Good versatile and high protein sources can include chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, green and black-eyed peas, pinto beans, navy beans, and lentils.
Contrary to what you may have heard, eggs are a great source of protein for a vegetarian diet. While they do contain cholesterol, they are low in saturated fat. Eggs are also chock full of vitamins and nutrients. They offer terrific sources of B12 which helps promote energy and vitamin D which builds strong bones.
Another excellent bone-building source of protein for a vegetarian diet is dairy. Consuming low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese can keep saturated fat in check while allowing your body the benefits of calcium for strong bones. Cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are great options for snacking or can be used as a base for many delicious entrees for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Nuts provide a good source of protein and fiber. However, they are calorically dense food so portion control is important. They are also considerably high in fat, but it is mostly heart-healthy unsaturated fats. As with most everything, moderation is key.
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